Working With .VOB Files

In the various video file formats I have to work with in litigation, one of the most common are .VOB files.  A .VOB file is the container format in DVD-Video media files.  VOB (Video Object) files can contain digital video, digital audio, subtitles, DVD menus and navigation contents which are put together to stream the content of a DVD.

VOB
This is what a DVD-format video file looks like.

 

If you have a DVD and just want to play it, you will never need to know about .VOB files but when you have to convert it or capture clips from it you will need to find a way to do this.  Sometimes you can just simply play a .VOB file in Windows Media Player or Videolan (VLC) player separately.  There are times when you can simply change the file extension from .VOB to .MPG and it will work the same but it doesn’t always work depending on how the file is coded.  Although a VOB file is essentially an MPEG file, it could have additional data that might be needed.

Perhaps the safest way to convert a .VOB file is to use a video conversion program.  I sometimes use AnyVideoConverter.  Doing so will ensure you can keep it seamlessly and not risk losing any important information or any loss in quality.

If you need to convert a DVD to play in TrialDirector, there is a nifty program included which will make life easier.   It is called the inData Digital Video Disc (DVD) Extractor.  It is very easy to use and can export the output to MPEG-1 and MPEG-2.  This is a useful tool if your attorney hands you a DVD to put into TrialDirector.  This utility will extract the DVD format into a more user friendly form for TrialDirector.

DVDextractor
inData’s DVD Extractor utility helps convert DVD format to MPEG.

With an video conversion, you must always use caution that you aren’t altering the video file or degrading it in any way.  There have been some instances when I have converted a VOB file only to discover that the video and audio did not match up or the time code was missing or different than when the legal team reviewed the original DVD.  Also, you have to stress to the legal team to provide you with the video files with ample notice as sometimes conversion doesn’t always happen instantly.

20 Minutes

20

“Hey, I need to play a video in a hearing today.  The hearing is in 20 minutes.”

Yeah, I’ve gotten that one a lot.

When you are a Litigation Support Specialist in any law office, you are going to have these moments.  I have done this for over 20 years and I certainly understand the pain we must endure.   My problem has always been when these “last-minute” notices come from the same people every time.  My argument has always been, that you are enabling these people by responding to the lack of notice they give.  If you do it, they will do it all the time.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I know emergencies are part of the job.  It isn’t an emergency when people always fail to plan.  Most of these hearings don’t just pop up out of thin air and, usually, a hearing doesn’t just materialize in 20 minutes.

It takes a lot of patience to manage these situations.  The most important thing is to never take it personally.  We are here to perform a job and when they ask we are supposed to jump in and get it done.  It’s not always an easy thing to manage.  To be fair, issues do come up in cases that even the attorney doesn’t know ahead of time.  The problem is with the repeat offenders.  The best we can do is to keep communication open and continue to express the need for notice.

If something doesn’t work guess who gets the blame?   Yes, you guessed it.  Welcome to our world.

It always goes back to that saying:  “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

So why do we have repeat offenders who fail to plan?

  • Planning is not a priority.
  • Lack of knowing how to plan.
  • Apathy
  • Planning is more work.
  • Resistance to change.

So, how can a Litigation Support Specialist manage these moments?

  1. Talk to the repeat offender’s supervisor.   When you do this, don’t go into the conversation aggressive or offensive.  Just calmly explain the issue and how important it is to have adequate time to properly prepare presentations with the equipment needed to be used in court.  Don’t case a blanket over everyone.  Give them the names of the offenders.  Even if the supervisor does nothing about it or blows off your concern, at least you have brought it to their attention.
  2. Have a quick-response plan.  If audiovisual support is needed, have a cart or equipment ready that can be rolled into a courtroom at a moment’s notice.  Have all cables and connectors on the cart.  Be the professional and do the job.  Never agree that this behavior is okay.  Sometimes people will apologize for the notice and it’s easy to just say “It’s okay” when it’s really not.
  3. Talk to the repeat offender directly.  Explain to them calmly how better it would flow if they did a better job at giving you more notice.  I try to explain the process of setting up equipment and making sure everything is working.
  4. Say “No”.  Yes I know this is a hard one because I’m sure you’re like me and you want to respond.  Sometimes you need to let them learn the hard way why it is important to give you more notice.   If you do this, be prepared to take some flak for it.

You want you and your firm to look good in court.  Planning for contingencies is an important part of doing that.  Obviously, you can’t anticipate every possible scenario.  Many times I have been asked endless “what if” questions.  My answer always is that we will just deal with it as it happens.  Our co-workers have to understand the importance of giving adequate notice in order to have quality work.  If they fail to understand that, it will eventually come back to bite them.  The key for us is to just do our best in responding and confronting the issue in the appropriate way.

 

 

 

 

Litigation Support On Call

hurry-man

One thing you can count on with litigation support is that you don’t always know how your day is going to flow.  There are some days that you can simply throw your schedule in the trash can.

To be sure, the one thing you can’t control is the lack of someone else to plan ahead.

I was reminded of that lesson this week.

Yes, this week.  The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day which is usually supposed to be the “slow” week.

I came in one morning and was working on a few projects when I got an urgent call that an attorney who needed to play a video in a court hearing.   It was 10 a.m. and the hearing was set for 10:30 a.m.   The courtroom, of course, had no presentation equipment so I got my cart that I keep ready for these situations and wheeled it down the hallway along with a projection screen.

I also pulled out my emergency necktie and sport coat and raced off to court.  It’s a good thing I keep those nearby.  I can’t say that everything matched but I was presentable and met the dress code for being in the courtroom with the attorney.

I quickly set up the projector and screen.  The attorney brought in the laptop and I had everything ready to go within 10 minutes.

Although I get annoyed with the lack of planning by others in situations like this, I know this is part of the job will never change.  The best thing you can do is be prepared for this to happen.  I was glad that I had the equipment on a cart and was ready for these contingencies.  After over 20 years doing this, you have to be ready.

Here’s what’s on my cart:

  • Projector with adjustable lenses (because you just don’t know what the projection angles will be)
  • Remote Control for projector
  • VGA cables with audio
  • Extension Cord
  • Cord covers/gaffer’s tape
  • Laptop power adapter (attorneys usually forget them)
  • Portable projection screen

In addition to the equipment items, I usually keep a few sport coats hanging on the back of my door and a neck tie in my bag that match my clothes I’m wearing that day.

As far as the court hearing goes, the video played without a hitch and no one knew the anxious moments leading up to the video being played.

 

 

 

 

12 Days Of Trial Prep

Most litigation technology specialists who have been in this field for a number of years can identify with these “12 Days of Trial Prep”…..

(sung to the tune of “12 Days of Christmas”)

On the first day of trial prep
my attorney gave to me:
A bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the second day of trial prep
my attorney gave to me:
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the third day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the fourth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the fifth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Five——–days ‘til trial,
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the sixth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——– days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the seventh day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five———days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the eighth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the ninth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——— days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the tenth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the eleventh day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Eleven hours of video,
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

On the twelfth day of trial prep
My attorney gave to me:
Twelve angry jurors,
Eleven hours of video,
Ten Banker’s Boxes,
Nine gigs of emails,
Eight guards a-snoring,
Seven messed up CDs,
Six screwed up hard drives,
Five——- days ‘til trial
Four students scanning,
Three defense attorneys,
Two clueless agents,
And a bipolar fed-er-al judge.

Deciding On Scanning Paper In-House

document-scanning7

Although it isn’t as often as it was in the past, there are still times when we must do something with scanning paper documents.  Most attorneys have no clue what is involved in getting paper converted into electronic images.  There are a lot of factors involved in this process.  You can’t always just load up the scan and press scan.

Here are some things to consider before you decide to tackle a document scanning project:

  • Do you have the time to commit to scanning?  This isn’t a project you can simply add to your multi-tasking.  You have to be alert and focus on the project.
  • Do you have the right equipment?  You may have to use a flatbed scanner for some documents.
  • How much do you need to scan?  Trust me on this point…do NOT let an attorney give you an estimate on how much.  Look at the project with your own eyes first.
  • What are the condition of the documents?  Will you have to remove staples?  Are the documents bound?  Are they various sizes?
  • Scanner settings.  It’s not always once-size-fits-all for the scanner.  There may be some documents where you will have to adjust the brightness and color.  You can’t just rely on having it all set to automatic.
  • When is the deadline?  Set reasonable goals.  Don’t try to impress anyone with short, unrealistic deadlines.
  • Just scanning the paper is not the end.  There is time needed for reviewing the images to make sure they were scanned correctly.  You may or may not need to put your eye balls on every single image but plan in this time to your project.
  • Bates numbering.  Decide before you scan the first page how the documents will be numbered.
  • Don’t advertise or brag about the project when you are finished.  Sorry, but no one cares unless you want MORE scanning projects.

Deciding to scan documents in-house is a very time-consuming project.  It is also VERY boring.  Don’t make it where you have to sit and scan non-stop from the time you arrive until the time you leave work.  Scan documents in chunks.  Give yourself breaks.   Scan for an hour or two in the morning and then another 1-2 hour session in the afternoon.  This will keep you fresh.

If you delegate this duty to a student or intern, don’t just dump it on them and forget about it.  Stay on top of the project and check the work.

It is rare to still have to scan paper but when you do, you need to develop a good plan to get it done.  Hopefully these pointers will help you.

Most Memorable Moments in Lit Support

trial_support_04

Officially, I have been doing this line of work since 1996 and over the past 20 years I have been involved in hundreds of trials.  This experience has given me some memorable moments that I will not forget.   Here are just a few:

  • While awaiting a verdict from the jury, I was packing up some equipment that we used in the trial.  The defense attorney said, “Mr. Hooper, good job.  That was some good technology the government used.”   His client sitting next to him added, “Yeah man, that was pretty cool.”    He was later convicted of conspiracy, making false statement and wire fraud.
  • During a break in the trial, the main defendant in a prescription drug trial walked over to me and asked how much the equipment costs that I was using.  He said, “I would like to buy one of those to use to teach my Sunday School class if I am not in jail.”    He didn’t have to buy one since he was convicted on 32 counts of wrongfully distributing prescription drugs.
  • Sitting at the table during a huge conspiracy trial, one of the attorneys whispered to me:  “Get the tape ready.”   Puzzled, I asked:  “What tape?”   They apparently had not informed me that they were going to play a videotape of a fire for the next witness.  I grabbed the tape and rushed down to the post office and found a VCR where I cued up the tape then rushed back into the courtroom in time for playing the tape.
  • A defendant representing themselves is always quite entertaining.  In one of these trials, the defendant started referring to me as “media man” until he learned my name.  It was the same as his.  He spent a few minutes on that until the judge told him just to refer to me as the Government’s Technical Expert instead of my name.
  • In a very sensitive case, I had to set up separate monitors for the jury so that the gallery could not see the evidence that we were going to present.  As the trial started, the defense attorney complained that the monitors were in his way of seeing all the jury members.   The judge rejected his statement and said “I have instructed Mr. Hooper to set up these monitors and if they are in the way then you need to move.”
  • In a death penalty case, I had spent all morning setting up the equipment and was having trouble with the monitor in the witness stand when the judge decided to come in early.  I had to stop and return to the table not sure if the monitor would work then when it came time, I pressed the button on my control panel and it worked.  Whew!
  • In preparation for closing arguments in one of the longest trials I had ever been involved in, I set up the PowerPoint presentation that the attorney was going to use.  After setting it up, I had to go to another courtroom to set up some equipment.   As I was leaving, one of the observing attorneys asked:  “Aren’t you going to stay?”   I answered:  “No, I have another courtroom to go to right now.”   He asked:  “What is something goes awry?”   I responded:  “Then it goes awry”
  • In the middle of another prescription drug trial, I got a message that our attorney was having problems with the document camera.  I walked in, pushed the on button and left.   I heard several jurors snicker as I passed on the way out.
  • In the boring stretch of a trial of a cult leader, I switched my computer and killed the display to the monitors and started playing solitaire.   The judge was smiling at me and then I realized that I hadn’t killed his monitor.

Yes, there has been several entertaining moments in this job.  I assume that I can handle stress pretty well since there have been many moments that challenged me.  There are many more moments I’m sure that I will think of later that I forgot to include in this list.  Many times they refer to the time in the courtroom in this job as being in the “hot seat” and it is clear why.   It doesn’t matter how much you prepare, there is always something new that is going to blindside you sooner or later.

What is Litigation Support?

 

When I was working in Tampa one of the younger attorneys came up to me and asked:  “What is it that you do here?”

There is a danger in trying to explain to someone what I do of the listener’s eye glazing over and zoning out if the explanation gets too technical.  One attorney once said that getting him coffee was a part of “litigation support” but I quickly educated him that it wasn’t.

When I started in this job is was described as “Automated Litigation Support” or “ALS” but over the years and with the increase of litigation specific technology, it has evolved into “Litigation Support” or “Litigation Technology”.

Basically, someone in this work is assisting their attorneys in using technology to help them identify, organize and present their cases in court.  I used to say that I was a hybrid of a paralegal/information technology specialist but it has gotten increasingly technical since the changes years ago in the rules of electronic discovery.

In most offices, litigation support/litigation technology is broken down into three main areas of expertise:

  1. Trial Graphics
  2. Data Management
  3. Courtroom Presentation

Trial Graphics is often the fun and creative part of the job when attorneys need help taking an idea or argument and making a graphical representation of it.  This is helpful when they have a complex issue to explain to a jury.  Many times this will involve the use of Microsoft PowerPoint.   In my opinion, PowerPoint is widely over used.   It works effectively at times but not as something that becomes a crutch for making a presentation.  Attorneys like to use a PowerPoint presentation for their closing arguments and I have seen it used successfully many times.  There are some who will use it in their opening statements but it can be very tricky to maneuver if you use evidence that you expect to come into trial.  I always caution attorneys that they need to be sure the evidence is coming in or they will have some consequences if it doesn’t.  Aside from that, I have seen the overkill in using a PowerPoint when it was routinely used for opening statements with no fewer than 100 slides.

Data Management is the management of data that we receive such as discs, flash drives or hard drives.  We analyze the data and determine the best way to process it and make it available for the attorney to use.  I used to call this area “document management” but the fact is that we don’t get as much paper anymore that requires us to scan and put into a database.  Perhaps the issue I deal with on a daily basis is helping the staff with various audio/video formats.  When I started, we only had tapes so we knew how to play those but today it could be in any kind of format.  We must also assist the staff in getting the discovery out to opposing counsel.

Courtroom presentation involves getting the software and equipment together for attorneys and paralegals to use in the courtroom.  When I started, I had to bring all the equipment such as projector, screen, cables, computers, etc.  Today we usually only need to bring a laptop to plug into the court’s presentation system.  We have software that allows us to show documents, photos, play audio and video from one software program for presentation to the jury during witness testimony.  The original is admitted into evidence and their review during deliberation but in using presentation software we are able to direct the attention of the jury especially since society now get most of their news from a screen.  It is a very effective way to communicate.

So as you can see, it is more than getting coffee.

As the practice of law gets more technical and digital, lawyers graduating from law school are becoming more tech savvy and independent on how they use it.   I would predict that in the next 10 years or so that offices will no longer need a person who specializes in litigation technology.   The software is getting more user-friendly and the technology is getting better.  Years ago I mocked people who said the law office would one day be a paperless office.  Although it isn’t totally without paper, I have to admit that it is paper-less.